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Real Steel (DVD)
Member Name: Dentolux
Real Steel (DVD)
Advantages: Good family story, impressive robot visual effects, well put together boxing sequences.
Disadvantages: Despite the two hour running time, by the end, I was left wanting more robot action.
Set in the near future, Real Steel tells the tale of a world were boxing rings have been vacated by human athletes and replaced with fighting mechs. Substituting fleshy boxers with machines sounds like a grand idea to me. It's less risky than subjecting a person to repeated blows to the cranium and I would imagine that automatons have far greater stamina than certain fighters (who command extortionate pay per view rates only to deliver unsatisfying short bouts.) Heck I can envision a day when all sports go this way. In recent times we have seen the growth of e-sports were spectators are content to watch virtual fighters/teams compete (such as the Street Fighter circuit or popularity of Starcraft 2 in Korea.) Years ago we even had Robot Wars dominating the airwaves and the creations in this film are far more impressive than watching Craig Charles get excited about pieces of scrap crashing into each other.
Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) unsheathes his adamantium claws and sticks to using his bare knuckles as retired boxer Charles Kenton. Back in the day he could have been a contender. His claim to fame is going a full twelve rounds with one of the best boxers in the business, but his overconfidence and poor decision making skills meant that he never lived up to his promise. With boxing consigned to the scrap heap his fighting record ended up being full of entries were he either inflicted a knockout or ended up prostrate on canvass himself. Transitioning to the arena of World Robot Boxing seemed like a no brainer, but things haven't worked out. Due to his aforementioned failings many of his robot avatars end up wrecked incurring a large repair bill he can ill afford.
THE MAIN EVENT
With debt collectors at Charlie's throat, Kenton is forced to babysit his estranged son over the summer. The deal is that he looks after the tyke, whilst his aunt his abroad, in exchange for a lump sum of cash and promise to sign custody of the boy over to his deceased ex-girlfriend's sister. A protagonist who is willing to trade away his son for a quick buck doesn't sound like someone audiences can get behind, but viewers should warm to the character thanks to Jackman's roguish charm. In the grand scheme of things the arrangement also makes perfect sense. The boy would be far better off with a wealthy and responsible aunt as opposed to a deadbeat dad who has been absent for the majority of the child's life.
Thus the story is setup. It's a Rocky like tale of a poor bum who claws (there's that Wolverine reference again) his way up to earning a shot at the world title against the Japanese constructed Zeus. Charlie and his son Max (played by Dakota Goyo) are initially brought together, by circumstance, against their will but bond through the trials and tribulations they face. Max is a whizz when it comes to video games, loves Robot Boxing and is blessed with a cocky talent for haggling that put his pop to shame. The youngster's insistence that the pair compete in matches using Atom, an obsolete sparring bot salvaged from a junkyard, is what turn's Charlie's fortunes around in the ring. Outside the squared circle Kenton's life also improves for the better as his relationship with his boy begins to blossom.
FLOAT LIKE A FLOAT BOT, STING LIKE AN AUTOMATED STINGING MACHINE
What carries the film would have to be the father/son dynamic between Charlie and Max. The script writers did a good job of balancing mushy stuff with some delightfully witty banter between the pair. The exchanges show how the two develop a fondness for each other evolving from spiteful jibes to friendly teasing. Anyone who has seen the trailer however doesn't care about all that. What they want is action and I pleased to say that the movie delivers. You get at least five full robot duels (including one which pits Charlie's original robot against a bull) and they were so much fun to watch that I wish they could have squeezed a few more metal mangling battles into the film's two hour running time. Sugar Ray Leonard was drafted in as a consultant for the movie and it seems like his input played a part in delivering these stellar robot brawling set pieces.
The visual effects also contributed in making the boxing segments much more watchable than the hard to follow tussles found in the Transformers movies. A combination of animatronics and CG techniques, which earned the studio an Academy Award nomination, were used to bring the robots to life. I wish the Transformers movies, populated with samey looking autobots, would have adopted Real Steel's approach to character design, as each robot has a distinctive look. Examples of note include Midas who sports a gladiatorial headpiece, Noisy Boy the colourfully decorated league robot whose purple paint job is peppered with oriental text and the two headed Twin Cities. Atom, the hero we root for, becomes a third member of the family despite not possessing any artificial intelligence. His shadow box programming routine, which allows him to mimic his master's actions, along with Max's attachment to him gives the impression that Atom is alive. This injects some humanity into what could have been soul-less fights as we genuinely root for Atom to beat the odds and escape from the boxing matches unscathed.
LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE
As someone who has a soft spot for robots (so many of the cartoons I love feature androids, giant mechs etc) I was really excited about watching Real Steel. In the end though it took me almost a year to check it out after mixed reviews dissuaded me from giving it a go. I shouldn't have waited so long as in the end I really enjoyed it. It's a great family movie which delivers a good message without resorting to overly cheesy storybook clichés. It's got some touching moments, funny bits and the infusion of robot combat, at the right moments, will keep youngsters' attention on the screen just when things feel like they are starting to drag. Using a boxing metaphor, I wouldn't say it's good enough to secure a knockout five stars, but if we go to the movie critic judges I'm confident that Real Steel still manages to claim victory earning four stars on the score card.
Summary: Rock'Em Sock'EM Robots the movie - trust me it's better than it sounds.